Last week, I shared the first part of this conversation with Alexa Voytek, Deputy Director of Programs, Innovation & Transportation, and Communications, in the Tennessee Department of Environmental Programs & Conservation of Energy Program (TDEC OEP) and Matt Meservy, Director of the Remote Planning Division in the Department of Energy and Mineral Resources. Tennessee Transportation (TDOT).
We discuss how states can begin implementation of the NEVI Program and how stakeholders across departments and industries can collaborate to efficiently and effectively build and electric vehicle (EV) charging network.
Here, we’ll dig into what a Phase 2 implementation of NEVI will look like and how Tennessee officials are increasing statewide EV adoption.
Below is a shortened version of our conversation, edited for length.
Nobleman: What are you doing to prepare for Phase 2 of NEVI and looking ahead in general?
Voytek (TDEC): With all the initiatives we’re doing in Tennessee, we’re acutely aware of the need in other areas where these funds can be spent once we fill gaps in the charging network along highway corridors. We’ve received lots of suggestions and notes on different ways to spend the remaining funds. When the time comes, we’ll do another listening session and see how we can revive our plan as needed.
Nobleman: Tennessee excels in coordination between various state agencies and entities (e.g., utilities) when it comes to building charging infrastructure. How did you manage to keep different stakeholders engaged and informed throughout the process, whether it was related to funding the completion of Volkswagen, NEVI or other endeavors? What advice do you have for officials of other countries looking to engage key stakeholders?
Voytek (TDEC): I see my role as both an information disseminator – ensuring people see the information and are aware of opportunities – and a matchmaker. In many ways, the main role we play at TDEC is sharing the opportunity and knowing that, while we may not be the leaders, we can help organize partnerships to execute projects. It’s important to recognize that many of these deployment challenges are so diverse that they require multiple fixers. Some of the true art is bringing the right parties to the table, introducing them, and then letting the magic happen from there. A lot of what we’re seeing in Tennessee is that no one can do it alone and we need to rely on our partners – both in other state agencies like TDOT, or other entities that want to get involved in moving the needle.
For me, there are several consortiums and key groups that act as organizers from relevant stakeholders. This includes Drive Electric TN, which has many committees and groups within it. The annual forum co-hosted by TDEC and TDOT, “Tennessee Sustainable Transportation Forum and Expo,” is a yearly meeting point for people to come together and talk about success stories and build partnerships. TennSmart is a consortium of public and private entities. TN Advanced Energy Business Council cultivates networking opportunities. We all help contribute to a highly collaborative and focused ecosystem of working together.
Meservy (TDOT): To add to what Alexa said about stakeholder engagement, as part of a different grant program, we laid out a “how to” for cities potentially interested in hosting an EV charging site, outlining the key players and contacts for support in bringing in the partners needed. This will continue to be important for our Phase 2 activities.
Workforce development is another piece of the puzzle. The workforce that will install the chargers and maintain and operate the infrastructure is another stakeholder we engaged with at the start of this discussion.
Nobleman: Beyond the NEVI, how can you make EVs more accessible to all Tennessee residents?
Voytek (TDEC): Drive Electric TN’s priorities are focused on addressing the main market bottlenecks we see, including the burden on infrastructure availability. While NEVI targets corridor filling to enable long distance travel, there are many issues with multi-family housing filling and other use cases that need to be better understood and addressed.
We also do some work in the workplace filling room, as well as with local government. We’re especially looking at small and rural governments because, for many of them, this is very new territory. We are in the process of finalizing and launching a video series as a guide for local governments to address their unique challenges. Drive Electric TN is also focused on increasing consumer awareness, so there’s a lot of content creation going on up front, in addition to pushing for the development of local chapters.
In addition, we hope to launch a dealer certification process for “EV-friendly” dealers, which will help put more focus on dealers and ensure they know how to advocate for the technology they sell.
One other thing about Tennessee that makes us unique is that we own the entire automotive manufacturing side as well. Our supply chain capabilities in the automaker space have allowed us to become a leader in manufacturing EV-related parts. With recent announcements from various automotive companies, we are in a great position to become a big part of the EV supply chain. This is another piece that can help benefit Tennesseans, both rural and urban, in terms of jobs and the resulting economic growth.
Nobleman: Does all of this seem to resonate with residents of the Volunteer State, or is more work needed to amplify the potential economic gains?
Voytek (TDEC): Some of this resonates, but there’s definitely more work needed and more developments to come. The idea that when you buy an EV you are supporting locally made fuel sources, and thus the local economy, is an important message that we try to convey well.
Nobleman: What’s next for Tennessee in terms of increasing EV adoption? Are there any other programs or initiatives you are planning?
Meservy (TDOT): One thing we’re starting to focus on is ways we can help manage growth as big developments roll in. Tennessee is an exciting area for the EV industry and we’re seeing more big businesses building footprints here. On my side, the planning side, this creates a lot of other complications in terms of job growth and how that can dramatically change the environment. For example, Stanton, TN is where Ford’s BlueOval City is built. This is a great opportunity but presents logistical challenges around how this small town will grow into something so big. From a planning standpoint, it’s about helping cities grow in a sustainable manner.
Voytek (TDEC): TDEC is increasingly focusing on medium and heavy duty electrification. With initiatives like the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean School Bus Program, we have nine school districts in Tennessee that have been awarded funding for electric school buses, adding to the districts that are already using the technology. We’ve partnered with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the local Clean Cities coalition, and the World Resources Institute to create a new offering called TN Beep, which provides free technical assistance to any school district seeking assistance evaluating this project and integrating EV. into their fleet. We are also seeing more interest in electric freight trucks and transit vans, which will open up new opportunities for electrification.
As an environmental steward, TDEC also has a great deal of interest in battery recycling and the lifetime use of EV batteries. This is another area we are excited about. The battery recycling market is still in its infancy, in large part because car batteries last so long, but as we expect to see some of them near the end of their lifespan, we also expect to see growth in recycling technology. TDEC wants to facilitate and catalyze that growth in Tennessee.
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